Freedom's Wings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

 

Shortly after he landed in New Chicago, Buck found himself in Dr. Huer’s office.  

“Well, Buck, you are looking particularly well and in good spirits,” Huer said with a smile.  

Buck paused a moment in thought.  Yes, he was in a good mood, all things considered.  Smiling, he unhooked Theo from Twiki and set him on the table.  “Thanks, Doc.  And I brought a mutual friend back to you.”  

“Good morning, Dr. Huer,” Theo announced pleasantly.  

“Good morning, Dr. Theopolis,” Huer responded with a smile.  

“I understand that things went rather well on Cronis,” the older man stated.  

“Hmm, as well as can be expected,” Buck replied, his tone yielding a bit of sarcasm.  

“Well, the Galactic Council does its best,” Huer reminded him.  

“Oh, I know.  At least a lot of the gang is off the streets.” 

“Yes, thank goodness,” Huer sighed.  “Twiki, would you be kind enough to go and get us some refreshment?” 

“By the way, Doc,” Buck began as the ambu-quad trundled from the room with a beep.  “I was wondering if you could do me a favor.”   

“Of course, Buck. What do you need?” 

Buck handed the scientist a small package.  “I have all the instructions inside and I can pick it up when the Searcher swings by again.” 

Huer looked inside and his eyes widened in surprise.  One large uncut crillite gem was nestled among several smaller ones.  

“Little something I picked up on Bosk,” Buck said.  “I had meant to give it to you before, but I was too busy having a pity party and it slipped my mind.”  

“There was a great deal going on then, Buck.  And it’s perfectly understandable that you were feeling sorry for yourself,” Huer said in a conciliatory tone. 

“Anyway, if you could take care of that for me, I would really appreciate it.” 

“I would be delighted to,” said Huer, clapping Buck on the shoulder.  

“Thanks, Doc.”  

“Now Dr. Carlock would most likely want to check you over before the Searcher disembarks.” 

Buck nodded.  “I figured he would.  And I want to see if Dr. Junius has found any new music.”  

Several hours later, Buck was winging back into space with Twiki.  By then he was beginning to feel the effects of lack of sleep, so with very little to say to anyone, this time Buck retired to his cabin and was soon fast asleep. 

 

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“So much has died on Earth and yet so much has lived as well,” Sky Mother said as she stood near the shuttle that sat on a high, rocky plateau overlooking a distant valley. 

“Yes, I have noticed that as well,” Hawk agreed.  “Perhaps the Earth, like her people will always survive.”  He turned to the two older Tane-rapanui.  “We will be traveling to find our kind in the Earth ship, Searcher.  Do you think you will be able to make the journey in a space ship filled with humans?” 

“It will be difficult, especially at first, but I see no other way,” she said.  “And besides, my son, you have made that journey for almost two years.  Surely we can as well, my beloved and I.” 

“I will help you as much as I can, Sky Mother,” Hawk said.  “I have been around humans even before I became part of the Searcher crew.”  He paused as a gust of wind blew his feathers and tried to push him back.  Another gust tried to propel him forward.  Hawk could picture the ancestors hurtling off these cliffs; their wings outspread, catching all of this capricious wind.   He shook his head and turned toward the shuttle.  “It is time,” he said.  

His companions nodded and stepped into the shuttle.  Soon they had left the mountains behind.  Hawk contacted the Searcher even as they were flying through the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere.  

Hawk made a slow approach to the large ship, letting his passengers get used to the dimensions of their temporary home.   He also was slowly deliberate because this time there was no emergency.  As he docked the shuttle, though, Hawk noticed a small crowd in the hangar and he wondered what was going on.  When he led his passengers through the hatch he was surprised, then pleased to see the admiral, Wilma, Buck and a whole group of junior officers in their dress uniforms.  

The admiral stepped forward.  “On behalf of the entire crew, let me welcome you to the Searcher,” he boomed.  

Sky Mother and Sky Father nodded. “We thank you, Admiral Asimov and are flattered by the honor being paid to us.”  She acknowledged the others with a nod as well.  “We are most appreciative of your help in our quest as well,” she added.  

“Hopefully that quest will be successful,” the admiral replied.  “And I hope that you will be comfortable while you are on board.  We have the guest quarters ready for you both.  They are adjacent to the executive officers quarters, so you will be near Hawk.”  

“Thank you, Admiral,” Sky Father said.  “We are a little tired, though.  Could we see our quarters, please?” he asked. While he was very touched by the reception granted them by the humans, Sky Father was still somewhat nervous in the proximity of so many of his former enemies. 

Asimov smiled.  “Of course, Sky Father.  Captain Rogers and Hawk will take you to your quarters.” 

Buck escorted the small group down what Sky Mother felt was endless corridors, all of them the same, then she remembered her people’s caves on Mendalis.  She could walk them in her sleep.  Buck had seemed to have the same problem with the caves that she was having in this human ship.  

Buck led them to the VIP quarters.  “Hawk, one of these rooms is yours, if you want to stay even closer to Sky Mother and Sky Father.” 

“Thank you,” Hawk and Sky Father said almost in unison.  

Sky Mother just smiled enigmatically.  “You are very dressed up for the arrival of two very simple people, Buck Rogers.  But it was very much appreciated.”  

“It was the admiral’s idea   His and Wilma’s,” Buck replied.  “And that is the way we greet all dignitaries.”  He led the way into the rooms.  “Whenever you’re comfortable with it, Hawk and I can give you the grand tour.”  

“Thank you,” Sky Mother said, looking around.  “I think we will be very comfortable here.” 

Buck soon left, feeling that the group wanted to be alone.  He quickly changed and headed to the bridge, where he had watch for the first time since his return to the Searcher.  It felt strange.  

The admiral, still in his dress uniform, got up from the command chair.  “About time you showed up,” he quipped, looking at his watch.  “We have been cleared to break orbit at 0200 hours, Captain,” he added more formally, and handed Buck the logbook.  

Glancing at it quickly, Buck noticed stargate coordinates.   They didn’t look familiar. “Destination?” 

“Draconia.  We are going to make sure of our destination before we pick up more of the Tane-rapanui.” 

“Ah, good.” 

“Wilma will relieve you at 0700 hours,” the admiral told him.  

“Sure thing, Admiral.” 

Asimov smiled.  “Welcome back, Buck,” he said softly.  

“Thanks, Admiral.  It’s sure good to be back,” Buck said as the admiral left the room.  

Buck exchanged greetings with the rest of the bridge crew and then sat down in the command chair.  He ordered a cup of coffee and studied the notes Asimov had left while he waited for it.  When the door slid open he heard the familiar clumping sound that told him Twiki had come visiting.  He smiled.  Everything was as it should be, at least for the moment. 

“Here ya go, Buck,” Twiki said with an added beep, handing him a steaming cup. 

“Thanks, Twiki.”  Yes, indeed, life felt good.   He sipped the coffee.  Twiki had gotten it right again.  He smiled his appreciation to the ambu-quad and settled comfortably in the chair, occasionally glancing at the various instruments on the bridge. 

 

 

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Ardala sat in languid ease in the throne-like seat next to her father.  Tigerman stood behind her.  She was enjoying her new status and role, but she was fully aware that such status could be fleeting, wiped out by a mistake on her part or by the mechanisms of someone like Kane.  She smiled in self-satisfaction.  One of her first orders upon her arrival was the demotion of her former counselor, Kane.  He was now a chancellor of a remote provisionary outpost on an equally remote part of the empire.  She would have preferred very much to have sent him to the Noren pits or to have put him to death, but she realistically couldn’t do that without more proof of his duplicity.  However, she also realized that Kane was still dangerous and she had given bonuses to some of her father’s most trusted spies to keep an eye on him.  

Yes, life was much better now, the future brighter.  She knew her father still wanted her to marry, and indeed she would like nothing better, but at least he was allowing her leeway in her timing as well as in her choice.  Maybe he had realized that choosing for her sisters had resulted in less than desirable matches and by allowing her to pick her own mate, the throne of Draconia might have a more solid base.  Whatever, she wasn’t going to complain.  

“The delegation from Earth is here, my daughter,” Draco said, bringing Ardala out of her reverie.   Turning to a servant, he ordered, “Go and tell the terrans that we will have audience in ten minutes.”  The slave bowed deeply and left.  

“You did well in the negotiations on Bosk,” he said.  “I will let you handle this.  I suspect, considering the name of the ship, that the delegation will contain some of the same people.” 

“The Searcher?” she asked hopefully, and then quickly regained control of her emotions.  Ah, will I never stop hoping?  But if Buck Rogers was dealing with some of the things she thought he was dealing with, then that might very well preclude him from being on his ship.  That he was a very proud and independent man, she well knew by experience.  

“Yes,” Draco replied, studying her carefully. 

“I suppose we shall see just what they want that would bring them out to Draconia to see us,” she said evenly. 

Draco just grunted.  

At the proscribed time, the Earth delegation was sent for.  Ardala was pleased to see that Buck Rogers had come, but she was totally surprised to see that the only other entity with him was the insufferable little robot that seemed to tag along with Buck everywhere he went.  What he saw in the little hunk of metal, she could not guess.  Ardala felt a flaring of irritation.  “The commander of your ship could not pull himself away long enough to pay his respects to my father and I?” she asked coldly. 

Buck bowed to both of them.  “Your Highness, Admiral Asimov sent me to invite you and your father to a reception in your honor on board our ship.” 

“He did?” she asked, wondering what Buck was up to.  

“Yes, Princess,” Buck replied, realizing that Draco was going to be an inactive participant in all of this.  He smiled. “And I thought that we might possibly have a pre-party toast before I escort you to the Searcher.” 

Ardala laughed.  “Still charming as usual, aren’t you, Captain.”

“For what purpose?” Draco asked tersely. 

“Purely social, Your Highness.  For old times sake.”  Buck tried his most disarming smile, but Draco didn’t seem impressed. 

“Your social endeavors with my daughter seem to have had a way of causing disaster for the Empire,” Draco retorted.  “For that alone I could have you shot where you stand.” 

“Uh, guilty as charged, Your Highness, but I assure you, our visit is social, mainly to pay respects.  You can check and see that we are an almost completely unarmed scientific vessel and we are not here for any hostile intent.”  He paused.  “Besides, your daughter did extend an invitation for me to come visit.  We were in the neighborhood.”  

Ardala sighed, she most likely had, although she didn’t remember.  “I always welcome a visit from you, Captain Rogers.” 

Draco made a small noise in his throat that didn’t sound like approval.  He turned to his daughter then turned back to Buck.  “We will accept your invitation.  Go tell your admiral to be ready for us tonight.”  He smiled and then waved his hand in dismissal.  “You may go now.” 

Buck glanced at Ardala and then bowed and turned to leave. 

“Wait,” Ardala said suddenly, not glancing at her father.  “I think I would like that private toast in my quarters.” 

Draco grumbled softly, then growled, “The time for this reception remains the same.” 

“Of course, Your Highness,” Buck said with a smile. 

“Escort us to our chambers,” she said formally to Buck, also motioning to Tigerman.  In her quarters, Ardala ordered her other servants out and then sat down on a softly cushioned sofa.  “Fix us a drink,” she ordered Buck in her softly seductive voice. 

Tigerman stood in front of the door, his arms folded over his massive chest. 

“Been working out, I see,” Buck quipped to the felinoid as he poured the iridescent liquid.  

Tigerman just grinned.  “You never taught fighting.” 

Leave it to Tigerman to remember something like that, he thought.  Aloud he said softly, “I’ll see what I can arrange.”  He took the drinks over to Ardala and handed one of them to her. 

She patted the cushion next to her.  “Sit down, Buck.” 

He sat.

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen
Chapter One
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